Product Improvements Outpacing Even Planned Obsolescence?

from the perhaps dept

We’ve written a few times in the past about how your memory isn’t fooling if you if you think today’s gadgets and gizmos are built with lower quality than consumer electronics from years gone by. Part of the reason is simply planned obsolescence, where companies are innovating so much they expect you to simply upgrade when the last one you bought breaks. However, a new article suggests that even planned obsolescence is a thing of the past as the pace of innovation is such that people feel compelled to upgrade relatively quickly, not waiting for their gadgets to break. The main focus of the article, though, is how this presents quite the conundrum for consumer electronics buyers, who always know that what they buy today will be a lot cheaper tomorrow. Of course, it’s not really clear how that’s any different than how things used to be. People have always struggled with the timing on when to buy computers or consumer electronics, knowing that there was always a next generation coming, and today’s products would just get cheaper. However, if you wait until the next generation is released, you should realize that you’re only going to be tempted to buy the newer, fancier one anyway.

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Comments on “Product Improvements Outpacing Even Planned Obsolescence?”

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Penny Pincher says:

Always a step behind!

That’s the way to save tons of money, just consciously stay a step behind the beelding edge!

Do you REALLY need all the bells and whistles on your digital camera, cell phone, laptop, etc? How many times do you use those kidns of products to the full extent of their capability?

Chances are 99% of the time the previously released product will be just fine.

BillDivX says:

I have special needs...

I am a software engineer by profession, and an audio engineer by hobby, so quite often I find myself in need of heavy duty, latest, greatest new things. But even then, I only buy the latest gear when i absolutely require it.

I just bought a brand new top of the line AMD dual-core, which is of course already out-dated 6 months later, but it WAS top of the line at the time. The only reason I did that was because I needed all the horsepower I could get for a mixing system.

But, sitting right next to it is my browsing and gaming system…it’s a good 5 years old. Even when I buy brand new stuff, I squeeze all the time I can get out of it.

Tyshaun says:

how about this...

I wonder why companies don’t move towards a subscription model some hardware (especially hardware that gets updated often like cell phones). For X dollars per year you have access to a “family” of products. As the next model in a family comes out, you have the option of getting it or not.

Me, personally, I never buy a product for it’s features, I buy the product with the features I need. If people did this, then part of the problem is solved. When buying a product I sit down and list what features I need, then by the product with all or the features I need (at the cheapest price).

Sanguine Dream says:

Re: how about this...

I wonder why companies don’t move towards a subscription model some hardware (especially hardware that gets updated often like cell phones). For X dollars per year you have access to a “family” of products. As the next model in a family comes out, you have the option of getting it or not.

As long as companies know they can make lots of money on people that will replace their hardware when the next model releases in six months (even if it doesn’t break) they’ll never go with your idea there.

I usually just figure out what I need and then buy a few steps behind what is the current top of the line. For example I plan on building a PC in the next month or so. I’m not going for the all out turbo charged latest model processor. In fact I’m fine with my little 600mhz Pentium 3 (and 8mb intergrated video card)…except for gaming which is what I want to get into. My plan is to buy a motherboard that will allow for mulitiple processor upgrades in the future. says:

This piece is less like a news article and more like a rant. Structuring your whole business around compelling consumers to continually buy new items is nothing new. Yes, I agree the level of confidence in products manufactured nowadays is very low. (May I point out the manufacturing job loss in America 🙂 ) Also, innovation is so high due little machines like the one I am typing to you on. When innovation is high and manufacturing quality is low. You have people buying new stuff before the old stuff breaks. This business model will only fail when consumers demand better longer-lasting products due to lack of innovation. Let’s take the vacuum cleaner for example. It hasn’t really changed a whole lot in the last couple decades. It’s a sucker machine. So a person could reasonably expect the quality of products featuring this sucker machine technology to become better when there is no innovation. Basically people just want quality sucker machine technology and they don’t require the newest innovations. Innovators by definition have no competition and so their products may not be optimal. They have value because they do what the product before them could not. This rant is solved very simply. Simply do not buy a product until you need what it has to offer.

misanthropic humanist says:

old vs new

I’m with COD on my buying habits. As a computer programmer and electronics engineer I think I understand the landscape well enough to make the best choice – which is last years technology. It’s burned in, proven, documented, costs less than 50% of the RRP, and there are cheap spare parts available if it does break.

I think what Tyshaun says is interesting though. Hardware rental may return because of green economics. We simply cannot have 100 million used cellphones ending up in landfill sites or being incinerated each year. The company best equipt to manage and dispose of old technology is possibly the manufacturer. The manufacturer knows the chemical and physical composition of the device best to recycle it and with new taxes being proposed which encompass the total environmental cost of ownership it may turn out best for all parties to send your cellphone back to the manufacturer
for recycling.

Older technology is best from a security viewpoint too. Hardware manufacturers have proven themselves unworthy of trust. If you want to make sure your latest purchase of computers are not leaking information through backdoors or spying on your employees then 2 year old technology that has been exposed to public scrutiny is a sensible path. Either that or use open source software on an open spec hardware platform.

Finally, Xenohacker is spot on about features and necessity. Many new devices are really the experimental edge of the market and contain features which are innovative but unproven. This practical market research with cutting edge products is necessary but many features turn out to be not what what people really want. Your purchases should be driven by your own needs and not pushed on you. Most people use less than half the features on technology they own.

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